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How a midlife crisis can lead to sanctity

Woman, Middle age, thinking
Potstock | Shutterstock
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Many dread hitting middle age, but it’s an occasion for deepening your faith and prayer life.

There is no magic age for entering middle age. It is technically somewhere between 35 and 55. And a crisis in middle age generally starts with a sense of dissatisfaction. We have given so much of ourselves, to so many relationships and endeavors, and suddenly we may feel a kind of emptiness deep inside. So, we ponder the difference between the dreams of our youth and what we have been actually able to achieve. Sometimes, we realize that we’ve been chasing a dream that is not entirely our own, or suppressing an entire side of our personality.

This is a time of self examination. After years of feverish activity, we begin to explore our inner life: “What have I done with my life? Have I made wrong choices? Who am I outside my professional life, my social standing? What direction should I take with the rest of my life?” All things that we have been bottling up for years may emerge to the surface. When it comes to matters of faith as well, each of us discovers ourselves as we truly are – fragile, vulnerable sinners. However, according to Fr. André Daigneault from Quebec, this life crisis we perceive as a trial can reveal itself as a real opportunity for sanctity.

Aleteia: Should we fear a midlife crisis?

Fr. André Daigneault: The middle age crisis, whenever it occurs if it does, can be an invitation to redefine oneself, which is our essential task as adults leading to our spiritual maturity. 

Can we avoid going through this pain?

Every human being, whether married or not, a priest or religious, goes through this period of more or less turbulence.  It can be linked to adolescence because whatever was not resolved during this time resurfaces and then, we can no longer ignore it. This is why some authors call this crisis the “second adolescence.” We realize that we can no longer maintain an idealized image of ourselves in our family: for the first time in our life, we dare to become ourselves, even if it means losing the respect of our loved ones, who generally, do not understand this change of attitude.

Is it a crisis of faith?

For Christians, this crisis could be an occasion to experience what many authors call “the second conversion.” It could be the time when we go through something of “spiritual darkness” that results in the blossoming of contemplative prayer. It has been affirmed by some, that this is the time of our life when we have to get in touch with our spiritual roots, reconciling ourselves with the faith we might have rejected as children due to either a false vision of God or of the faith of adults.

In what way is a midlife crisis an opportunity?

Human personality only reaches its full maturity by the age of 40. Actually, often, the middle age crisis is an opportunity for us to reconcile with ourselves. It is the time to go from “doing” to “being.” It is a time when an adult has to reexamine his life and let his biggest aspiration emerge. In general, after such trial, we become more compassionate toward others and toward ourselves. It is like a new departure, a rebirth. It is then, that we get back our heart of a child while becoming wiser. 

If we did not try to ignore it and if we have accept to reexamine the wounds we have suffered, then after this crisis, masks fall off and we can truly become ourselves. A transformation takes place. You might say that each of us discovers ourselves not as we have imagined but as we truly are.

What can our loved ones do to help?

They can be a reassuring presence, strong and understanding. They need to be careful not to rush in with advice and solutions, but try to help the person analyze this spiritual and emotional pain. At this stage in life, a person needs to feel accepted in the deepest sense of the word, to be sure that what he will reveal and what seems to him at times frightening, does not cause condemnation from those to whom he will open up.

Generally, there is a temptation to escape and to hide behind a mask, to harden oneself even more, in order to avoid this turbulent phase at the midpoint of life. Others feverishly embark on all sorts of activities, without noticing that they are trying to escape it and escape themselves.

Jewish psychoanalyst Karl Stern, who converted to Catholicism, observed that a man who energetically and tirelessly runs everywhere, a dynamic and busy person who does not stop, is generally inhabited by anxiety engendered by internal problems that stem precisely from his refusal to face his inner fragility. This middle life crisis allows him to abandon his idealized image of himself and his role to fully rediscover himself in his human weakness.

Should we struggle by ourselves or seek the help of a spiritual director or therapist?

It all depends on how deep the crisis is and its repercussions in our daily life. Some of us go through this stage in a rather serene fashion, while others are greatly affected. For such persons, panic, kindled by resurfacing old traumas could take the upper hand. But as I have said, this period could be a time of “spiritual darkness” that can cause us to pass the threshold and make our inner life deeper and more authentic. So, we can call on an experienced person of faith who knows about the spiritual life. And if the mental suffering is too great and the person is experiencing enormous difficulties in their daily life, then we should not hesitate to get help from a professional.

Interview by Cyril Lepeigneux

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